Improving Our Environment


Junked cars, emblematic reminders of deterioration, rusting away in open fields, backyards, and neighborhood alleys, are a disgusting sight. Such derelict hulks have an appalling affect on neighborhood atmosphere. They can discourage home owners who might otherwise take pride in the appearance of their property. Junked cars not only act as depressants to civic pride, but they also depress property values.

Mrs. Freda Pickens, president of the Lake City, Florida, board of realtors, may or may not have considered these enervating factors when she decided two years ago that something should be done to beautify her city. Mrs. Pickens made a decision and then acted. She took the leadership in organizing a team representing twenty-nine civic and social organizations, city officials, and county government personnel.

She wanted to beautify the city. And she tackled the problem of junked automobiles head-on.

Altogether, 218 abandoned cars were removed from yards and vacant lots and transported to appropriate automobile graveyards. That wasn’t all. Old political signs and banners, abandoned refrigerators, stoves, washing machines, and other discarded appliances were hauled away.

But there were problems. Wrecking yard dealers were overstocked with old cars. Nor does anyone have the right to dispose of goods for which they have no legal title or receipt of ownership. Suitable auto wrecking yards had to be found, and affidavits allowing the metal dinosaurs to be hauled away had to be signed by the owners. When found, most of the owners of abandoned cars were only too happy to sign and have them removed—at no cost to them.

This is the type of action, multiplied a thousandfold, that I have been supporting during the past two years as an ambassador of goodwill for the National Association of Real Estate Boards’ Make America Better program. It is hoped that the job done in Lake City and in hundreds of other communities will inspire others to do likewise.

Making the community better is everybody’s business. We are all in this together. The improvement of our environment is more than the removal of old automobiles and refrigerators, the picking up of trash along our highways, and other physical tidiness.

Our commitment is much more far-reaching. We are under obligation as decent human beings, responsible citizens, and God-fearing people to clean up our environment, not only in the physical sense, but in our speech, in our daily work, and in our attitudes.

It is easy to become discouraged in the never-ending job of keeping ahead of dirt and trash and the resultant decline in moral and physical values. Just a year ago I visited a major U.S. city to do some television work in connection with the Make America Better program. It was the first time in five years that I had been in that city, and I was heartsick at what I saw. The streets were filthy, not only with trash but, even worse, block after block of shops dealing with pornography—human sewage pits.

It was a sad visit for me. Worse than the trash on the streets, and even the pornography, were the living conditions in the inner-city area. One of my hosts told me about the situation in one depressed and congested region where poverty, perpetual welfare, filth, hopelessness, dropouts, and children under ten years of age taking hard drugs were a way of life. Occasionally a man will rise above this condition with pride and strength and will get a job that pays well enough to support his family. He wants to remain in his neighborhood with family and friends, but he doesn’t have a chance. Every payday he is pinned to the wall by drug addicts with knives and guns who take his money, forcing him to leave the community. And the neighborhood becomes even worse.

That is the bad side.

But what I want to report is that in going about the country as an emissary for the realtors of America I have found a lot of courage, hope, and enterprise on the part of strong people.

Not everything is misery, degradation, darkness, and perpetual defeat. What people are doing in the Make America Better program is, in essence, an affirmation of a belief in God and the nobility of mankind.

I remember so keenly the story told to me by Ruth Zornes of Bellingham, Washington. In 1969 Mrs. Zornes was trying to establish a small community for the mentally retarded and disturbed patients who at that time were eking out their lives in institutional depravity. Everything turned sour. It appeared that the project was lost. Mrs. Zornes had one last hope—the hand of God; so she prayed.

Later she went to Seattle to transact some business. At a restaurant a waitress said to her, “You look as though you have lost your last friend.”

Mrs. Zornes told her story, then left the restaurant. A man followed her into the street and said, “I heard what you told the waitress. I am a lawyer from Los Angeles. Here is what you must do.” And he told her how to set up committees and ways to implement her project.

Today the Blue Canyon facility prospers just outside of Bellingham. It was established as a place for the mentally ill to live their lives in dignity. But it has worked out better than expected. Such is the beauty and tranquillity of this retreat amid the pines and along the shore of a lake—complete with fruit trees and pens for rabbits and chickens—that a dozen of the patients were released to families and friends within the first eighteen months. It is notable, too, that the state of Washington saves $190 per person, per month, for each of the two dozen people residing in Blue Canyon.

What a magnificent way to make a community better!

People everywhere are indeed going the second mile to make their environment better. You see manifestations of this attitude in the state of Utah. Just a few years ago students at Brigham Young University whitewashed their mountainside school symbol on “Y” Day each May. That was all. This year, several hundred BYU students went into a nearby community to repair and paint the homes of people who were unable to do it for themselves and to improve their public facilities.

In Salt Lake City young Latter-day Saints mowed lawns, did chores, and otherwise made money to contribute to a minority group of another faith so that they could build a place for worship. Certainly that is making a country a better place in which to live.

Where it counts most, of course, is in the growth and elevation of the people who hold out the helping hand for their fellowman. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are noted for their welfare program and for many other things. Not so well known is their continuing work on behalf of the American Indians and their educational activity with the Polynesians. My husband and I, for example, have found a lot of happiness in helping to elevate the educational standards of these marvelous people. These are but the surface parts of the icebergs. Latter-day Saints throughout the world keep everlastingly busy in doing for others.

Just recently, one of my associates informed me that his sister has been a ward and stake organist for more than sixty years continuously. She started when she was ten years old. What a contribution that is to the well-being of her fellowmen!

It has been my privilege to see people in action at their best during the past two years. Concerned citizens of Des Moines, Iowa, bought a $40,000 building so that minority youths could have a place to play, work, and study. After one year, more than seventy-five scholarships had been processed through that center, called “Soul Village.” Others have sponsored programs where former drug addicts speak to students about the dangers of drug abuse. Light-the-night programs have been promoted to stop the burglar and the degenerate. Homes for the elderly and the poor have been built, and vocational education has been promoted. In Dubuque, Iowa, and Amarillo, Texas, students have built homes on lots donated by realtors. Parks have been built and maintained for the underprivileged in Texas and other states.

World conditions today call for more of this type of action. It should be repeated again and again until it is imprinted on our minds and becomes a habit—almost a reflex habit. Making the world better is everybody’s business. The smallest child can take part by learning not to litter. The automobile driver can help by driving with his brain instead of his brakes. Gunning the motor adds just that much more to the pollution of our precious air.

Improvement of our environment on a worldwide scale is a monumental task. We admire young people for taking part in “Earth Day.” It calls attention to our ecological problems. But that is merely the cosmetic part. We cannot gloss over our environmental problems with gimmickry and one-day wonders. It will require a long, sustained, never-ending effort to correct the mistakes we have made in the past. Some of these problems, involving big companies and the pollution they create, already are in the process of being solved. We know that it will take a long time and will require the expenditure of a lot of money. So we must be prepared, if we want cleaner air, cleaner waters, and a better environment generally, to pay for it.

In the meantime, though, all of us can be doing those large and small things that can enhance our environment without too much expense. On our own scale, we can do what the citizens of Lake City, Florida, did. They had a local problem and they solved it.

Too many of us are tentative, dipping our toes into the waters of life, fearful that the waters are too cold. To lead out in a worthy cause, we should plunge in courageously and take the consequences. It is the same kind of courage expressed by John Keats when he wrote to his good friend James Hessey of his feelings on composing the epic poem Endymion:

“… I leaped headlong into the sea, and thereby have become better acquainted with the soundings, the quicksands, and the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the green shores, and piped a silly pipe, and took tea and comfortable advice. I was never afraid of failure.”

[photo] Softball park recreation area was developed from a weed-choked field in an environmental improvement project.

Laraine Day, star of motion pictures, television, stage, and radio, has been speaking across the United States for the National Association of Real Estate Boards in support of their Make America Better campaign. In private life she is the wife of Michel M. Grilikhes and the mother of four; they live in Westwood First Ward, Los Angeles Stake.